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Helping Hands

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When Del Norte High School got a brand new building last summer, it also got something else: a newly active alumni association, committed to helping current students by pairing them with alumni mentors, providing scholarships and helping them explore careers.

Angelo Gonzales, the president of the association, said the vision is to use alumni resources and experiences to help improve the school for current and future students, not to dwell in the past.

“We were very intentional about putting together an organization that would do more than just nostalgia,” Gonzales said. “We’re not a reunion planning organization; we’re a service organization.”

Gonzales graduated from Del Norte in 1994, and he works in education policy at the University of New Mexico.

Building on that expertise, he has helped the association come up with a mission that centers on relationships and connecting students with adults in the community.

“Adult-youth mentorship is a really important factor in student success,” Gonzales said.

He said the association plans to find Del Norte alumni who have gone on to interesting careers and ask them to mentor students or connect them with internships.

For those who can’t make such a time commitment, he said alumni could come into schools to talk about their careers or the colleges they attended.

The association is still new; it formed last summer after alumni held an event to visit and remember the old school building before it was demolished.

Thousands of people showed up, and it was then that a handful of alumni saw the untapped resources that could be used to benefit the school.

Janet Saiers was one of the organizers of that event.

She graduated from Del Norte in 1966, in the school’s first graduating class.

Now retired, she said she hadn’t been involved at the school until the construction renewed her interest.

She said the timing of the construction, as the school’s first class reaches retirement age, may also have played a role in raising alumni interest.

“Our first class, we are all turning 65 this year, which is a major wake up call in terms of, I don’t know, just personal introspection,” Saiers said.

She was also motivated by a feeling that the school’s academic reputation had declined over the years, compared to more affluent schools in the Northeast Heights.

“That bothered me, that people would think that students at Del Norte were not equal to any other APS high school,” Saiers said. “And so that was part of my motivation was just, I’m proud to have been part of that community, and I want others to be proud.”

Saiers also said she likes the idea of showing Del Norte students what alumni have accomplished.

“We are actively looking for Del Norte graduates who have achieved … journalists and educators, TV reporters and college professors, doctors and nurses. So that Del Norte students are going, ‘I can be that, that can be something I would want to look at for a career.’ ”

She said the association also will try to get alumni to attend events and support current students, whether that means sporting events, music recitals or academic competitions.

Gonzales said he would like to see high schools emulate college alumni associations.

“Colleges do an amazing job keeping in touch with their alumni. They have career offices, fundraising,” he said. “So part of this vision piece is really thinking about, can we build a model for public high schools to really tap into their alumni networks in the same way that colleges do?”

Gonzales said the association’s next step will be fundraising to provide college scholarships to students.

He said the group has decided it wants community service to be part of the criteria for students to get scholarships.

When it comes to scholarships, Albuquerque High School alumni have been giving back for decades.

Since 1994, they have been giving scholarships to Albuquerque High students who are admitted to colleges and universities in New Mexico.

The scholarships range from $800 to $1,000 and go to students who qualify for the lottery scholarship.

The money provides “bridge” funds for students to buy books and get started in college before lottery funds kick in for the second semester.

Students get the funds based on need, after interviewing with alumni.

Bobby Santiago, who helped found the Albuquerque High association and sits on its board, said the group gives between 15 and 25 scholarships per year, and all of its activities are aimed at raising funds for those scholarships.